Partly life science, partly life story, this book points the way beyond a mechanical view of life.
It’s the kind of science book I really enjoy: a bold, paradigm-shifting theory presented by a researcher who knows what he’s talking about. One of the ways Bruce H. Lipton busts conventions in this book is by spending so much time talking about his own life. And while his life is very interesting, in most scientific books this might be perceived as self-indulgent; in this case, however, it fits perfectly due to the nature of the theory that he is presenting, and its implications.
For the core assertion of this book, contrary to the “central dogma” of cell biology, is that genes are not destiny. For proof the author offers the simple fact that genes are not self-activating; the genes of a cell, encoded in its chromosomes, are activated by triggers coming from outside the cell’s nucleus, and ultimately from outside the cell itself. It is the cell’s environment that dictates how a cell will behave, and which genes will be activated, and when.
The author spends time showing how it is not the cell’s nucleus, with its set of chromosomes, that is the “brain” of the cell, but rather the cell’s membranethe fatty envelope that holds the cell togetherthat performs this function. It is the cell’s membrane that holds all of its sensory apparatus and does its decision-making. Lipton points out that in the development of an embryo, the cells that go on to form the skin of the newborn also go on to form its brain and nervous system, pointing back, he thinks, to the identity of these functions in the single cell.
Lipton then goes on to talk about quantum physics and its implications for biology. He observes that biologists in general, including himself, tend not to have a very sophisticated understanding of physics, limiting themselves to a few courses on basic Newtonian physics early in their university careers. But physics has moved on from Newton. The 20th century brought the stunning revelations of quantum physics; what do these mean for biology?
Lots, according to Lipton. For just as Einstein’s theory of relativity showed the deep identity between matter and energy, so quantum theory has shown the deep identity between mind and matter, or mind and the physical world of matter-energy. This means that the “environment” of a celland each of us is a collection of several trillion cellsis not just the physical medium in which it rests, but also the mental medium surrounding it. Each cell responds sensitively to the innumerable gross and subtle influences on it, chemical, physical, electrical, and mental or spiritual. The response is determined by the cell’s membrane, and the genes execute that response.
If Lipton is right about thisand he has persuaded me that he isthen the implications for each of us are vast. For we are not, as biological and medical science currently teach us, mere organic robots executing programs encoded in our genes, which were bestowed on us at birth and cannot be changed. We are active, choosing participants in our world and in our life, whose genes are following the commands that we are directly or indirectly sending them. If we wish to lead healthy, fulfilling lives, our task is to discover how to send the right instructions to our own genes.
This is easier said than done, but it is eminently possible, and certainly more so than changing our genome.
The insights that the author presents so simply and picturesquelyhe has honed his presentation of the ideas over many speaking engagements with nontechnical audiencesare easy to grasp for the nonscientist. Indeed, if you have scientific training you may find his explanations too simplistic and protracted.
He understands the difficulty people may have in accepting these ideas, for he arrived at them only over a long period, and with a number of setbacks along the way. But the accounts of how he made his discoveries have the mark of authenticity, and are exciting, as all stories of discovery are.
One of Lipton’s strongest messages is that his discoveries have changed his own life, not just professionally, but to the core. He frankly admits that as a young man he was unhappy and envious of others; but since his discoveries in cellular biology, he has found the means to change his thinking and become a happy person. And it is this power which he wishes to help put in the reader’s hands.
He doesn’t actually do this, though, for it turns out that the most important factor in improving the biology of our own cells is amending our subconscious beliefs (hence the title of the book), and there is no book-given way of doing this. He suggests a couple of possibilities for the reader to pursue, but other than that, you’re on your own.
But the book as it is presents a wonderful message. It is joyous, freeing, and empowering. Our cells are here to help us achieve what we want to achieve in life; we just need to learn to tell them what to do.